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  1. This is the very beginnings of a build log. Until I have finished renovating the house, there’s no chance of actually doing any building – no time, and no space available. But in my free moments I’ve been researching and drawing up plans for a Byzantine dromon of the 10th-11th century. The name dromon (Greek = “runner”) was originally applied to a class of fast Roman galleys with a single bank of oars developed around the 6th century AD. Over the centuries, as the Roman Empire shifted its emphasis to the East and gained a new capital in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) and evolved into what we now know as Byzantium, the dromon changed as well, until by the 10th century AD it was a very different vessel with two banks of oars, lateen sails and armed with a devastating weapon, pyr thalassion – Greek fire. Greek fire is generally accepted as having been made of naphtha, a naturally occurring substance similar to petroleum. Contemporary descriptions led Prof. John Haldon to work out theoretical design using only technology known at the time, and then put it into practice, with spectacular results (see https://books.google.com.au/books?id=q0hMf5vu7kgC&pg=PA289&lpg=PA289&dq=%22Greek+fire%22+revisited:+recent+and+current+research%22&source=bl&ots=Kwp5Xa3U62&sig=tR81SBsNfAc_uDLyuXDxe9uPWKA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bjAzVc61C8TNmwWvv4HICw&ved=0CCYQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=%22Greek%20fire%22%20revisited%3A%20recent%20and%20current%20research%22&f=false - page 292 onward). Greek fire was used effectively in a considerable number of battles, destroying threatening enemy fleets. I was reported to have burnt on the surface of the water (and in the reconstruction that’s just what it does!). The definitive source on the dromon is the excellent, thorough and painstakingly researched book Age of the Dromon (http://www.brill.com/age-dromon-0) by Professor John Pryor and Elizabeth M. Jeffreys, which draws together all the clues as to the nature of the vessel, from its early development to its apogee in the 10th and 11th century. The available information is rare, widely scattered and often difficult to interpret. At the time it was written no remains of any Byzantine war-galley had ever been discovered, let alone a dromon, contemporary descriptions were vague and patchy (and in the case of at least one writer of the time, often wrong). Contemporary illustrations are equally unsatisfying and the conclusions and resulting reconstruction reached are a considerable achievement. There have been a lot of theoretical reconstructions of dromons over the years, many of which can be seen if you do a google image search for “dromon”. Some of them are quite ludicrously wrong – often clumsy and far too heavy for a vessel propelled by muscle power. Prof Pryor’s reconstruction is the best and most believable I have seen, and is based firmly on the available evidence. It would also make a fast and effective warship, which most of the others wouldn’t. The picture that emerges is of a long narrow vessel with 100 oars arranged in two banks of 25 on each side. Instead of an outrigger, the sides were flared outwards at the gunwales to allow a good angle of attack for the upper oars. The vessel was fully decked and had two lateen rigged masts and dual side rudders. There was a fortified forecastle, below which was the siphon for Greek Fire. On larger dromons each gunwale was built up amidships and fortified with a wooden ‘castle’. In the centuries between ancient and mediaeval galleys, shipbuilding techniques had changed from frameless shell-construction (in which adjoining planks were fastened together by many small wooden tenons fixed into slots in the edges of each strake), to fully framed construction which was far stronger, and unable to be sunk by ramming. Rather than a ram, the late dromon had a long detachable ‘spur’, intended to break the enemy’s oars, to destroy its motive power and manoeuvrability. Instead of sinking opposing vessels, the dromon’s crew used projectile weapons – bows, slings, ballistas and even flung stones to cause casualties on the enemy’s decks until they could pull alongside, grapple and board. The oarsmen of the upper bank doubled as marines, leaving the lower bank to manoeuvre the ship into position. Tests on Olympias, a full-sized reconstruction of an ancient Greek trireme built in the 1980s, determined that such long, thin, light vessels were very subject to the vagaries of the weather and were of very limited stability. It was discovered that it was impossible to row effectively in any sort of sea – waves one metre high were the upper limit – and a galley faced by bad weather had little choice but to run for shelter. Galleys were also poor sailers and could really only sail effectively in a gentle breeze – a heel of more than 10 degrees would swamp the vessel and it would have been all but impossible to sail into the wind. A dromon’s storage ability was minimal and on long trips it would have to put into port on almost a daily basis to replenish stores, (particularly water, which oarsmen need to consume in great amounts to stay effective) A galley’s length is determined by the interscalmium – the distance between the rowing benches. Age of the Dromon estimated the interscalmium to be about 1.0 metre (3’3”). Any closer together and the oarsmen foul each other; any further apart and you’re adding dead weight for the oarsmen to pull along for no reason. A galley with 25 benches in each bank would be about 25 metres long, plus extra for the bow and stern. A dromon was incredibly long for its width – the reconstruction in Age of the Dromon is 31.25 metres (95 feet 4 inches) long and its maximum beam amidships only 4.46 metres (13 feet 7 inches). Just as the book was about to be published in 2006 an amazing discovery was made in Istanbul. During excavations for an underground railway in the Yenikapi district of the city’s southern edge, workmen stumbled upon the Harbour of Theodosius, silted up and buried centuries before. Under the mud were the remains of 37 Byzantine ships dating from the 5th century to the eleventh century AD. Most were merchant vessels, but at least 6 were war galleys – not dromons unfortunately, but galeai – smaller and lighter single banked galleys used for scouting, and from which our word galley comes. The Yenikapi ships confirmed the theoretical dimensions of Age of the Dromon’s reconstruction – of the two galleys which still had their upper works in reasonable condition, the interscalmium of one varied between 0.90 and 0.97 metres, and the other between 0.874 and 1.048 metres, averaging 0.96. The length and beam of these galleys was consistent with the theoretical reconstruction. These vessels were incredibly lightly built – the thickness of the planking varied from 20 to 30mm (3/4”-1 ¼”, almost unbelievable in a vessel of that length, and the frame timbers averaged 60mm (2 ¼ ”) square. The ships were prevented from hogging by stringers inside the hull and heavy wales. Presumably dromons were similarly constructed, with extra stiffness provided by the full deck. I cannot adequately express my gratitude for the wonderful help freely given by Professor John Pryor and also by Dr Cemal Pulak of Texas A&M University. Professor Pryor has been incredibly helpful to a lubber like me and I owe to him almost everything I know of dromons, and certainly my decision that I could actually go ahead and make a model of one with a reasonable certainty of getting it right. He also referred me to his colleague Dr Cemal Pulak, (who took part in the excavation of eight of the Yenikapi ships, including two galleys). Dr Pulak was kind enough to send me a copy of his paper when it was published (it appears in the in the international Journal of Nautical Archaeology 2015 44.1; pages 39-73), as well as a photo of a partial reconstruction of the better preserved of the two galleys he excavated, built at a scale of 1:10. My model will follow Professor Pryor’s reconstruction as closely as possible, with a few modifications based on the Yenikapi finds and on some discoveries of my own when drawing up the model to scale. However, before constructing the full model, I plan to make a midships section at 1:20, with three sets of working oarsmen, as Professor Pryor pointed out that though theoretically the two banks of oars of his reconstructed dromon should not foul each other (Olympias had a lot of trouble with broken oars from fouling between oars of different banks), they have not been tested in the real world. I've attached a PDF of the plans in their current state of development. It should be very interesting. Steven dromon.dwg Model (1).pdf
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